PHILADELPHIA — Navy freshman cornerback Brendon Clements had gained plenty of on-field experience going into his first Army-Navy game, having started for much of his first year in Annapolis.
Yet when Clements woke up Saturday morning at the team's hotel, he was more nervous than he had ever been for a college game. The feeling didn't go away after he went to breakfast, nor did it after he a pregame meeting.
"I told some of the other players I haven't been nervous all year and I'm nervous now, and we haven't even left for the game yet," Clements recalled a few hours later. "They just told me, 'Don't be nervous, just have fun.'"
Clements said the nerves had left by the time the Midshipmen arrived for their game at Lincoln Financial Field. It certainly showed in what became a dominating defensive performance by Clements in Navy's 34-7 victory.
Starting with a first-quarter hit on Army sophomore quarterback A.J. Schurr that forced a fumble at the Navy 38, which the Midshipmen turned into a 20-yard field goal by sophomore kicker that broke a scoreless tie, Clements had the best game of his career.
With Navy ahead 10-0 in the second quarter, Clements intercepted a wobby pass from Army junior quarterback Angel Santiago, his third pick of the season. He later forced another fumble by Santiago that defensive end Will Anthony recovered, leading to Navy's final touchdown.
"The biggest thing [defensive coordinator Buddy] Green and the other coaches kept saying was, 'Have perfect eyes,'" Clements recalled. "This is a game where you go over and above, and if you do your assignment, the game will come to you."
It did, many times.
Army sophomore cornerback Chris Carnegie said last week that Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds' supporting cast wasn't as good as it was last season and that they "don't look like they're always on the same page."
Fullbacks Quinton Singleton and Noah Copeland proved in Saturday's win that Reynolds does indeed have help. Singleton's career-best 58-yard run set up the Midshipmen's opening field goal, and Copeland's career-long 39-yard touchdown run gave Navy a 10-0 lead.
"It was like a confidence boost for both of us, and being able to do that kind of took the pressure off Keenan, and they had to respect us and take us [seriously]," said Copeland, who hadn't played because of injuries in more than a month. "It was big for us to get those runs."
Said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo: "I think those runs inside definitely helped us. I was kidding Quinton because he supposedly is our fastest of our fullbacks and he got caught [from behind]. But those were some big runs inside."
Slip slidin' away
During practice Wednesday in Annapolis, Niumatalolo stopped the Midshipmen's workout, brought his team together and had equipment manager Greg Morgenthaler give the Midshipmen brief instructions about what kind of footwear to bring to Saturday's game.
Morgenthaler said that if the field was soggy, as it was at practice, players should continue to wear their molded cleats. But if the forecast of snow was accurate, he said, the Midshipmen should wear cleats with screw-in pegs for better traction.
Morgenthaler said the Philadelphia Eagles' equipment manager told him that running back LeSean McCoy changed from molded cleats to shoes with screw-in studs during last Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions, which was played in 6 inches of snow.
McCoy set a team record with 217 rushing yards and had two long touchdown runs.
Navy seemed to have better footing than the Black Knights, who Morgenthaler saw were wearing molded cleats with short metal tips.
"It's the same cleat, but without the metal tip," Morgenthaler said after the game. "The thought process was that if it gets snowy and slippery, the metal tip is almost like an ice-skate blade."
Morgenthaler said that after one long run, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds came up to him.
"G, great call," Reynolds told Morgenthaler.
Aiken for a play
Navy senior wide receiver Matt Aiken thought his college football career was over when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during last month's win over San Jose State.
But there was Aiken, in uniform and on the field, for the final kickoff after Reynolds' last touchdown. Aiken remained on Navy's side of the field as the kickoff coverage team ran downfield to make the tackle.
"Coach [Niumatalolo] told me that if anyone came near me, step out of bounds," Aiken said.
Aiken said after the game that he knew he was going to dress for the game, but didn't think he would get on the field. Though he would have loved to contribute more, Aiken was happy to get in for a play.
"The fact that Coach at the end of the game was thinking about me and put me in the game, it takes a little sting away knowing that I could be there for the guys," Aiken said.
Saturday's game marked Navy's last in Nike uniforms. The team will move to Baltimore-based Under Armour starting next season. A press conference will be held in the next week or two in Baltimore, according to Under Armour and Naval Academy sources.